Legal description

What is a legal description?

A legal description is the geographical description of real estate that identifies its precise location, boundaries and any easements for the purpose of a legal transaction, such as a transfer of ownership. A legal description is kept with the deed and filed with the county clerk or county tax assessor.

Deeper definition

Typically, legal descriptions are generated and prepared by a licensed surveyor to accurately identify real estate for a legal transaction, such as a property transfer, dispute settlement or a loan collateral. Legal descriptions note the precise location of a property, including geographic features such as bodies of water and easements.

There are different methods of determining the legal description of a property:

  • The lot and block system identifies sections of land by a lot number or letter and the subdivision within, which has been previously determined by one of the other methods.
  • Metes and bounds refer to the property boundaries and the area within them. This is determined by starting at the point of beginning (POB) and delineating the sides and angles of the property to the point of ending (POE), which is also the POB since a piece of property must be enclosed. The metes and bounds method typically is used to describe smaller parcels of land.
  • A rectangular survey uses latitude and longitude lines to divide land into 6-by-6-mile townships. These are then divided into smaller sections.

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Legal description example

When Sandra and Jamie’s father died, they were surprised to discover that the family farm would not be bequeathed to them equally. The farm crossed county lines and originally consisted of two 50-acre parcels of land, each with a house. The father had planned to bequeath one 50-acre parcel to each of his children. But when the property was surveyed, the legal description divided the property along county lines rather than by the original parcels. This meant that one child would inherit considerably more acreage than the other.

If the father had known of the discrepancy in the legal description before his death, he could have seen to it that the farm was divided equally between his children the way he had intended.

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